PHARR, RGV – The two candidates running for mayor of Pharr have very different opinions of how their city is doing.
Mayor Pro Tem Adan Farias says the quality of life is getting better, with improvements to basic infrastructure, better parks and more retail establishments. He pays tribute to city staff and says the unity among city commissioners has been striking. And, there are even better times ahead, with more exciting plans in the works, Farias says.
Dr. Ambrosio “Amos” Hernandez, in contrast, says Pharr has been falling behind neighboring cities and does not have a seat at the table when big regional projects such as the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine are discussed. He also says too much power has accumulated in the city manager’s office and wants control of the city’s chamber of commerce and economic development corporation dispersed.
While both Farias and Hernandez have deep roots in the community they project a different style, outlook and vision. Political analysts say it should offer voters real choice come May, when the city elections are held.
Farias is a retired educator. He taught at PSJA ISD for 31 years and was a high school principal at South Texas ISD for four years. He retired from the world of education in 2006, the same year he was elected to Pharr City Commission. He is also currently chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, which advocates at the state and federal level for cities from El Paso to Brownsville.
Like Farias, Hernandez attended PSJA. Hernandez is medical director of surgical services for Driscoll Children’s Hospital in the Valley and chief medical compliance officer for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Health System (DHR). He is also on the board of directors for DHR and is chairman of DHR’s political action committee, the Border Health PAC, one of the largest PACs in Texas.
Asked why he is running for mayor, Farias told the Rio Grande Guardian: “It is all about public service for me. My interest is making the city a better place to live, work and play. We need to leave it in a better place than we found it and I think we have been doing that.
“In fact, the transformation of Pharr in recent years has been quite stunning. When I joined the city commission there was a lot of in-house fighting, a lot of mistrust; a lot of turmoil. But, things began to change around 2006 and 2008,” Farias told the Rio Grande Guardian.
Farias said the city commission really became united after the 2008 elections. “The younger commissioners came in – Eddie (Cantu), Bobby (Carillo) and Oscar (Longoria) – and we have not looked back. Suddenly, we had a good team and things fell into place. We have our differences, like any family does. But, we are all interested in the well-being of this city and a lot of good things have happened, in terms of economic development.”
Farias said a lot of new projects have been undertaken and pointed to new parks, the new aquatic center and the expanded boys and girls club. He also pointed to Pharr’s success in attracting retail superstores like Sam’s, Costco, and At Home. And, he said, Pharr was the first city in the Rio Grande Valley to secure a Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen restaurant.
“It is because we have real good staff, we all work together to make things happen. And there are more great things to come. We are redeveloping El Centro Mall. We run billions of dollars of commerce over our international bridge, the only fully developed commercial bridge in the area. There is a lot of commerce coming through our area. So, we are very proud of that also,” Farias said.
“I do not want to take credit. It is our incredible staff and the composition of the board. It has been good for our city.”
Farias said the No. 1 legislative agenda item for Pharr this session is securing funding for a connector that will run from Military Highway to I-2/Expressway 83. “That is a big thing for us. You have other areas with access to the expressway. Now, it is our turn. And, with retail growing, more traffic will be generated. We need better connectivity. It is our top priority.”
Farias also pointed to the development of a law enforcement academy South Texas College is building in Pharr. “The Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence that will address the critical and growing need for highly trained law enforcement personnel in the South Texas border region,” Farias said.
There is a vacancy for mayor because longtime incumbent Leopoldo “Polo” Palacios announced he would not be running for re-election. Asked if Palacios and his family would be supporting him or Hernandez, Farias said: “Mayor Palacios has said he is not going to get involved in the mayor’s race in way, shape or form. He is going to stay neutral.”
Farias concluded his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian by restating how keen he is to be part of the “great things” that are happening in Pharr. “I am really focused on taking us to the next level. Our sales taxes are up. The whole image of Pharr has been transformed. It is due to people working together, it is not about one person. I am really proud of the staff and the boards that advise us. It looks like the stars have aligned for us. I would think the people of the city will be happy with what we have been doing. We want to keep the momentum going.”
Hernandez said he is running for mayor because he wants to take Pharr in a new direction.
“It appears we are always getting scraps or leftovers. Whenever any major event occurs in the Rio Grande Valley, it always seems to be McAllen, Edinburg and now even Brownsville, with SpaceX. We always seem to be the last one there or you are not even at the table to negotiate. I want Pharr always to be at the table. We need to seize those opportunities, whether it be in healthcare, being part of the medical school, whether it is international business, with the bridge, whether it is bringing government jobs to the area. Increasing the quality of life of our people, that is what I see,” Hernandez said, at a news conference held at Pharr city hall to coincide with his filing to run.
When a reporter questioned the claim that Pharr is losing out and pointed out that he had heard a number of elected officials and community leaders in neighboring cities talk in glowing terms about how Pharr was setting the pace, Hernandez said: “Appearances can be deceiving. You may be first to bring Costco. It may be there but it is pretty vacant. Everything is in the details. You may be first to bring Pappadeaux. That is fine but what did you give away to bring those industries in?”
Being first to bring a major retail chain can be misleading, Hernandez said.
“We have a higher tax rate. If we are such a leader, our sales and taxes should be higher. We are not, as a matter of fact, (first). Our unemployment is higher and their (neighboring cities) tax rates are lower. They (neighboring cities) are visionaries. They bring business, on many platforms. They are very diversified and they have a lot of sales tax.
“Why do we not have the same low tax rate, the same infrastructure they have, the same parks, the same ability to have nice sidewalks and places to hang out for families? It is easy to compare Pharr with McAllen. The streets are not the same. We may be leading in giving our money away to corporations to bring them here but it is certainly not to serve the citizens of Pharr.”
Asked if a connector from Military Highway to I-2/Expressway 83 is his top legislative agenda item this session, Hernandez said: “It is one of the issues. It is the state, the Texas Department of Transportation that is leading the way. It will happen whether Pharr likes it or not. We need a better relationship with other bridges in the area and think regionally.”
Asked by a reporter if he will be running a slate of candidates, in order to fully change the makeup of the city commission, Hernandez said: “I don’t believe in this nomenclature of slates. There will be candidates we will be supporting as a team effort. It does not really matter whether I have three new commissioners. It is a team effort. I can bring people together. I don’t care whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent or a Tea Partier, it is irrelevant. I have the knack, for whatever reason, of bringing them together.”
Asked if he has the support of Mayor Palacios, Hernandez said: “Yes, we do have his support. This is my campaign. I expect to do all the work. I welcome the citizens of Pharr to help me as well, including Polo Palacios and his family, if they choose to.”
In answer to a business magazine publisher’s question about whether too much power is currently being concentrated in the city manager’s office, Hernandez said: “The Chamber of Commerce, it should be separate. There should be checks and balances. They cannot be all under one authority. It is not healthy. The EDC needs to be separate as well. There needs to be checks and balances. It cannot just be one person in charge of all three entities. It is not healthy, it is not transparent.”
Hernandez said his business acumen would be beneficial for the City of Pharr. “I am a successful business person. I do charity work. As an executive vice president (at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance) I oversee three major departments. The perfect example is the nursing education department. Quite frankly, it was in a shambles. We took over it, we restructured it, put the best people in place and now we have, for the first time in the nation’s history, a dual enrollment project that graduates students from PSJA, my alma mater, with an associate’s degree, with the ability to go on and get a bachelor’s, a master’s or a PhD. Never in the history of the United States has this been done.”
Asked if he would have time to juggle the demands of mayor, businessman, physician and executive of a major hospital, Hernandez said: “Time is actually easy when you have the right team. If we have the right team and the right infrastructure there is no reason to micro-manage. If you are micro-managing there is something wrong with your leadership or the people in place.”